Tag Archives: non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Swarm Troopers by David Hambling

Drones have become and integral part of warfare in much the same way as a mobile phone has become a fundamental platform of modern life.  Both technologies emerged in the late 1980s, and both have advanced astonishingly quickly.  The reason for the rapid development of mobile phones is simple; money. The smartphone industry spent US$150 billion on R&D in 2014. The Pentagon spent US$60 billion on all its research programmes combined. This is possible because of the economies of scale and the exploitation of free market economics.  Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: Swarm Troopers by David Hambling

BOOK REVIEW: 24 Hours at Agincourt by Michael Jones

This month marks the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt and a flurry of books are being published to celebrate the occasion.

Henry V inherited the throne of England, which at that time included Wales, Calais and a substantial chunk of South West France, from his father (Henry IV) in 1413.  His father had usurped Richard II and England was still recovering from the split.  As Prince of Wales Henry had already been thoroughly tested in combat, having defeated the Welsh uprising of Owen Glendower, and in peace making.  He was a just, pious and popular monarch.  With England united, his attention turned to recovering the rest of his realm, which at one time had contained Normandy, Brittany and much more of South West France.

In the 15th Century world God was at the centre of everything, including justice.  Wars were believed to be an extreme form of trial by combat and God would deliver victory to the righteous.  The lost lands in France belonged to the English king, himself ordained by God, and thus a war to regain them would be righteous.  Provided it was righteously conducted Henry would prevail.  He therefore went to great lengths to explain his cause and request immediate return of his lands.  Unsurprisingly the French monarchs rejected his claim and the stage was set for war.

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BOOK REVIEW: Armoured Horseman by Peter Willett

This is Peter Willett’s memoir of his service in the Second World War, all of which was with The Queen’s Bays, a tank equipped cavalry regiment in the Eighth Army serving in North Africa and Italy. It is an utter delight to read; the authors prose is engaging (as befits a former racing journalist and fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts) and the story compelling.

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BOOK REVIEW: Letters From the Trenches by Jacqueline Wadsworth

During the First World War the Post Office build the largest wooden building in the world in Regents Park. It covered 5 acres, employed 2,500 staff and in the period 1914-18 dispatched 2 billion letters and over 100 million parcels. That’s an awful lot of mail which should contain many gems for historians and authors. The challenge, as the author acknowledges lies in separating the wheat from the chaff. Having managed that a compiler has to structure the book, either following some protagonists throughout their war, or perhaps covering the war more widely including excerpts from more correspondents. Jacqueline has opted for the latter approach, which also requires the addition of significant amounts of context by the author. It is very ambitious to seek to cover the Western Front, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia Italy, Russia and the Home Front in one 180 page work.

The author is not a military specialist and sometimes omits to include sufficient detail of location and context of a letter. She appears to view the casualty rates as far higher than they actually were and has chosen to omit any reference to gallantry awards received by any of the correspondents because “there must have been an enormous number who deserved recognition but went unnoticed.” The book’s structure means that most pages contain more of her words than extracts from letters.

The extracts from the trenches are fairly dry and matter of fact about fighting, if it is mentioned at all. Commentary on the weather, quality of billets and the other myriad factors of life in the field abound. A few extracts convey a deeper sense – a (public school educated) officer writing to thank his family for a hamper but directing them to send gifts to soldiers, not him. The author seizes on a protracted correspondence from a cavalry sergeant who was court martialled, convicted and pardoned of drunkenness. He writes well but his experience is hardly typical.

The wider context of the book includes letters from soldiers in home based units, both training and garrison artillery as well as letters from Empire servicemen commenting on England. There are also letters from wives and sweethearts to soldiers. The extracts are generally printed verbatim, as they should be. The author has chosen to then highlight grammatical errors with [sic] every time they happen. Why she does this I do not know; they impede the flow and give the impression that the author is sneering at some of her selected correspondent’s literary levels. It is infuriating. She also places explanatory notes in square brackets in the text, rather than covering it in her prose or foot notes. Most extracts are separately indented; some are not which is tiresome.

This book seeks to portray almost the entire war from extracts of letters of fewer than one hundred correspondents. At least a quarter of the letters are not from the trenches at all. It does give a general feeling of what the war felt like to some of the protagonists, who may or may not have been typical, and it is easy enough to read. But having read it the average reader will not have gained much knowledge or understanding of the First World War. It is disappointing.

This Review was first published on http://www.arrse.com and appears here with their kind permission.

BOOK REVIEW – The Somme Campaign by Andrew Rawson

This review originally appeared on the Army Rumour Site (www.arrse.co.uk) and is reproduced with their kind permission.

The average reader of this blog is probably familiar with the First World War and may well ask whether the centenary of its start is cause enough for another book on the Somme Campaign of 1916.  The author, who has written many military books, asks the same question in the introduction and answers it.  This book is a comprehensive, chronological record of how and where the British Army fought during the 142 days.   It was worth writing, and is certainly well worth reading.

The book eschews commentary, discussion of the intriguing relationships between the commanders and the German view and experience.  Instead it produces a dry, unequivocal record of who did what, why and when.  The author has also avoided the common trap of wallowing in the (appalling) casualty rolls.  The result is a crisp, authoritative and clear text.

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BookReview: The Kaiser’s Captive by Albert Rhys Williams

This Review was posted on the Army Rumour Service Site http://www.arrse.co.uk and is reposted here with their kind consent

This book, which was first published in America in 1917, describes the experiences of a 30 year old American in the opening days of the First World War.  It has been reprinted to coincide with the centenary.

Born and educated as a minister in America, with spells at university in England and Germany, the author found himself on the German side of the front during the battles of the Meuse.  He spent much time on his feet observing the German advance through Belgium and the reactions of the locals.  Much of the book comprises vignettes, some of which are quite charming.  He is, rightly, full of admiration for the stoic resilience of Belgian peasant farmers and disgust at the destruction of a neutral country.

Continue reading BookReview: The Kaiser’s Captive by Albert Rhys Williams